The Messy Spot
166 Maroubra Rd, Maroubra
Tucked away inside an unassuming office block in Maroubra is a riotous explosion of colour and creativity. The Messy Spot is a unique venue where kids aged from 2 to 12 have free reign to let their imaginations run wild. Here kids are “smocked up” given paint and glitter along with a smorgasbord of art equipment and invited to go to town. Painting the walls is not only allowed its encouraged! From Tuesday to Friday The Messy Spot is open for casual visits. No bookings are required so kids and carers can simply rock up and choose from the many art options available. Over the weekend the space is transformed into a one-of-a-kind party venue where staff provide a fully coordinated program of painting and craft activities. They’ll even do all the catering, leaving parents nothing to do but enjoy the party. What could be easier?
The Messy Spot is a wonderful concept. Its a place where kids and parents can get away from the TV and actually do something “hands on” together at their own pace. The staff are always friendly and have a lovely affinity with the children. They are more than happy to offer advice and suggestions to help the littlies create their perfect masterpieces. Of course the best thing is that you can mess about with paint, playdough and glitter (the mortal enemy of Mums everywhere ) to your heart’s content and leave cleaning up to them.
How it all came about.
The owner Karen Levi, Mum to Zac (aged 7) and Ashley (aged 4), has a background in event management and business development. After having a family Karen found that her passions and priorities had completely changed. Although she was strongly motivated to work “outside the home”, the corporate world had lost its gloss. More importantly her former career simply did not offer the flexibility she needed. Karen laughingly attributes her decision to plunge into the small business abyss to Oprah. She was sitting in front of the TV one afternoon breastfeeding Ashley, when Oprah turned to the audience and asked ” Are you living an authentic life?” As naff as it sounds, this was Karen’s epiphany. At that moment knew she had to crystallize an idea that had been rolling around in her head for years. Karen’s sister had long been urging her to push ahead with her dreams but it took one rhetorical question from Oprah for it all to click together in Karen’s mind. Inspired by her son Zac, she wanted to create something that would be beneficial to young families. Spending time playing with and observing Zac as a toddler helped her ideas take shape. She envisioned a venue full of colour and texture, where kids had the freedom to experiment and express themselves. Ideally she wanted it to be an oasis of creative spontaneity in a world that she saw as increasingly structured and regimental for children. The blue print for the The Messy Spot was based on the kind of place that Karen wanted to take her young son but there was nothing like it available. The astute business woman in her saw a gap in the market and an opportunity.
Karen’s first obstacle was getting the idea past her husband. It was a “hard sell”. Karen’s husband, an IT professional at a leading investment bank, forced her to reign in her enthusiasm and consider the practical aspects of her decision. The couple set about putting the building blocks in place. Organising finance and insurance was a monumental task. However the biggest challenge was finding a suitable space to rent. On December 16th 2008, The Messy Spot finally opened. It had taken the best part of that year to do all the ground work.
The first year
Karen began an advertising blitz centred around the Sydney Child magazine. Customers began to trickle in and the business gained momentum through word of mouth. The Messy Spot’s first year was the hardest yet most exciting of Karen’s life. Juggling a baby and a pre-schooler, she was physically worn down by the work. Exhaustion and illness took its toll but blind determination and the fear of failure carried her through. With the Messy Spot being the only business of its kind in Australia, there were no role models or mentors to follow. Mistakes were made and the business model evolved through trial and error. Three years later Karen thinks of the business as being still young and just reaching the point where it is self-sustaining.
Work/life balance is a Holy Grail that Karen is still searching for. She owes much of her success to the support of her parents and in-laws. Their help with the children enabled her to channel her energies into the business. Once he was “sold” on The Messy Spot plan her husband became a Rock of Gibraltar despite working long hours in a high pressure role himself. He organises Zac and Ashley over the weekend when Karen is busy supervising the party side of the business.
Thanks to the power of social media and old fashion word of mouth, business is steady enough for Karen to start thinking about taking a step back. She admits this is difficult given her emotional investment in the project. The brand is still in flux and she is introducing a variety of new products such as Hen’s Parties, adult craft sessions and corporate events. Her long term goal is to build a franchise but its a question of perfecting the business package and finding people who are as passionate about the Messy Spot concept as she is.
Its been a bumpy ride at times but Karen clearly relishes the journey. Having travelled down the small business road she doubts that she could return to the corporate world. In fact she describes herself as a once “serious corporate employee” turned “small business goofball”. She enjoys being part of the community and the rapport she has with parents. Most of all she loves seeing the children who regularly come to the Messy Spot grow and develop.
Karen is proof that with vision, perseverance and a little bit of inspiration from Oprah an enterprising woman can turn mess into success.